Burt Folsom’s blog distorts history of DDT

October 13, 2011

I hadn’t thought Burt Folsom, author of FDR Goes to War, much of an ideologue, but a post at his blog makes me wonder about whether he is so grossly inaccurate on other things, too.

The post, written by Anita Folsom, said:

Fast-forward to the post-World War II period. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her best-selling text, Silent Spring, in which she protested the effects of pesticides on the environment.  Ten years later, DDT was banned.

Thomas Sowell points out that such bans, while passed with the best of intentions, have unleashed growth in the numbers of mosquitoes and a huge recurrence of malaria in parts of the world where it had been under control. The same is true of modern pesticides in the U.S. today.  One reason for the rise in the incidence of bedbugs, which bite humans and  spread disease, is that the federal government has banned the use of chemicals that were effective against such insects.

The issue is one of balance.  While it is every citizen’s responsibility to take an interest in a clean environment, it is also a responsibility to avoid over-zealous regulators who cause harm by banning useful chemicals.  Perhaps what is needed is a substance that will cause bureaucrats to leave citizens alone, both immediately and in the future.

Perhaps the trouble comes from relying on Thomas Sowell as a source here — on DDT and Rachel Carson, Sowell appears to be  just making up false stuff.

Thomas Sowell has come unstuck in history, at least with regard to DDT and malaria.

Thomas Sowell has come unstuck in history, at least with regard to DDT and malaria.

First, the “DDT ban” mentioned here was by U.S. EPA.  Consequently, it applies ONLY to the U.S., and not to any nation where malaria is a problem.

Second, the order banning DDT in the U.S. restricted the ban to agricultural use on agricultural crops, almost solely cotton at the time.  DDT use to fight malaria would still be legal in the U.S.

Third, the order banning DDT use in the U.S. specifically exempted manufacture of DDT — so in effect, the order more than doubled the amount of DDT available to fight malaria mosquitoes because all U.S. production was dedicated to export, specifically to allow DDT to be used to fight malaria.

Fourth, and probably most critically, it is simply false that malaria resurged when DDT was banned.  By 1972, malaria infections were about 500 million annually, worldwide.  Malaria deaths were about 2 million.  Even without U.S. spraying DDT on cotton crops in Texas and Arkansas, and to be honest, without a lot of DDT use except in indoor residual spraying as promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria infections have been reduced by 50%, to about 250 million annually — and malaria deaths were reduced by more than 50%, to fewer than 900,000 annually, worldwide.  WHO estimates more than 700,000 African children were saved from malaria deaths in the decade from 2001 through 2010.

Malaria deaths and malaria infections decreased after DDT was banned in the U.S., and continue to decline.

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Burt and Anita Folsom should have checked Sowell’s claims on DDT, rather than accepting them as gospel.

Fifth, while it is true that reports generally claim that DDT limited bedbug infestations in the 1960s, the truth is that bedbugs became immune to DDT in the 1950s, and DDT is perfectly useless against almost all populations of the beasties today, and since 1960, 51 years ago.  Also, the evolution to be immune to DDT primed bedbugs to evolve resistance to other pesticides very quickly.  DDT didn’t stop bedbugs, and lack of DDT didn’t contribute to bedbug infestations after 1960.

(Maybe worst, and odder, 111 people have been injured by pesticides used to control bedbugs, one fatally, in the past ten years.  Which is worse?)

Sixth, bedbugs do not spread disease, at least not so far as is known to medical and entomological science.

Sowell’s claims endorsed by Folsom are exactly wrong, 180-degrees different from the truth.  Sowell and Folsom are victims of the DDT Good/Rachel Carson Bad Hoaxes.

Since malaria has been so dramatically reduced since the U.S. banned the use of DDT, perhaps Rachel Carson should be given full credit for every life saved.  It’s important to remember that Carson herself did not suggest that DDT be banned, but instead warned that unless DDT use were restricted, mosquitoes and bedbugs would evolve resistance and immunity to it.  DDT use was not restricted enough, soon enough, and both of those pests developed resistance and immunity to DDT.

Ms. Folsom urges restraint in regulation, she says, because over-enthusiastic banning of DDT brought harm.  Since her premise is exactly wrong, would she like to correct the piece to urge more regulation of the reasonable kind that EPA demonstrated?  That would be just.

Good sources of information on malaria, DDT, and Rachel Carson and EPA:

Africa had a surplus of DDT from 1970s through 1990s, creating a massive toxic cleanup problem for today. This FAO photograph shows

Africa had a surplus of DDT from 1970s through 1990s, creating a massive toxic cleanup problem for today. This FAO photograph shows “TN before: 40 tonnes of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, TN.” DDT was not used because it was largely ineffective; but had any nation wished to use it, there was plenty to use.

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PestAway: Exterminator deals with DDT, honestly

June 29, 2011

Here’s a cool breeze:  Pest Away Exterminators in New York explains, patiently, that DDT no longer works against bedbugs, and is otherwise ill-advised in most applications.

Try to find an error in this short post:

DDT

The truth about DDT…

  • It was highly effective when it was first introduced.
  • It nearly wiped out bed bugs in America.
  • It is NO LONGER effective in treating bed bugs.
  • It is more dangerous than people realized.

In 1939, DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) was introduced as the “miracle pesticide.” It was effectively used in military and civilian arenas to control lice, malaria, mosquitoes and bed bugs. It nearly wiped out all bed bugs in an allegedly “safe” method, but by the 1960’s, bed bugs had built up a resistance and potential immunity to DDT.

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, which essentially demonized DDT and helped launch the environmental movement. By 1972, DDT was banned in the USA, but DDT is still used very effectively in other countries to control Malaria. Although there is a public outcry to bring DDT back, it’s very unlikely that it would have any meaningful effect on controlling bed bugs.

Jeff Eisenberg founded the company in 1991, after a career with a large accounting firm.  It appears his training on the importance of accuracy in numbers, and honesty in facing tough situations, carried over to his new business.  Good on him.


How evolution makes bedbugs resistant to DDT

October 12, 2010

Our internet’s best expert in bedbugs, Bug Girl, recently featured another post relating how DDT drove evolution of bedbugs, so that bedbugs are no longer susceptible to DDT.  You should go read what Bug Girl said.

And you can view the video here, too; let’s spread the word, eh?

As Bug Girl describes it:

I discovered that bed bug evolution–specifically resistance to pesticides–was also the subject of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center‘s podcast this month.  A FASCINATING interview with one of the grand old men of evolutionary genetics, James Crow.  He worked on DDT resistance back in the late 40s and 50s.

Watch, and increase your knowledge.


Tupper takes up the quill

September 23, 2010

Karl Tupper of the Pesticide Action Network started blogging at PAN’s site, GroundTruth, a few days ago.  His carefully-thought out, informative writing turns to the issue of bedbugs and DDT in his first post.

GroundTruth, the blog of the Pesticide Action Network

Is there room for another blog?  Any blogging about science, with accuracy, is always welcome.

Karl’s second post updates us on EPA’s hearings on atrazine, and the industry campaign to slander any agency who dares to ask the tough questions about chemical safety.  Shades of the 1962 campaign against Rachel Carson, eh?


DDT can’t fight bedbugs

September 19, 2010

Newsweek magazine, even in its much reduced form (bolstered by a good on-line site), still provides essential reporting.

A week or so ago Newsweek published a piece of reporting on the politics of bedbugs.  To wit:

  1. DDT doesn’t work against bedbugs, and hasn’t worked against them since the late 1950s.
  2. Astroturf organizations, so-called “think-tanks” set up by corporate interests jumped on bedbugs as another way of attacking the 46-years dead Rachel Carson, environmentalists, scientists and government — falsely.  The Heartland Institute is singled out as one group spreading false claims in favor of poison and against environmental protection.
  3. The recent resurgence of bedbugs is more related to changes in fighting other pests than in the discontinuation of DDT against them.  Had DDT been the magic answer, bedbugs should have made a resurgence in 1960 when DDT use against them was stopped, not 2010, a full half-century later.
  4. The many screeds in favor of DDT are politically driven, not science driven.

Think about that — every claim that we need DDT to fight bedbugs is a planted, political advertisement, and not a fact-based policy argument.  Each of those claims is based in a political smear, and not based on science.

The really weird part is that so many writers and bloggers spread the false claims without being paid.  Selling one’s soul for money is understandable; giving one’s soul away for nothing is stupid, or evil, or both.

Newsweek reported:

DDT “devastated” bedbug populations when it was introduced in the 1940s, says Richard Cooper, technical director for Cooper Pest Solutions and a widely quoted authority on bedbug control. Mattresses were soaked in it, wallpaper came pre-treated with it. It also killed boll weevils, which fed on cotton buds and flowers (by far, the majority of DDT was applied to cotton fields), and, incidentally, it killed bald eagles and numerous other species of birds, the phenomenon that gave Carson her title. In the laboratory, DDT can cause cancer in animals; its effect on human beings has long been debated, but since it accumulates up the food chain, and stays in the body for years, the consensus among public-health experts was that it was better to act before effects showed up in the population. But long before the United States banned most uses of it in 1972, DDT had lost its effectiveness against bedbugs—which, like many fast-breeding insects, are extremely adept at evolving resistance to pesticides. “Bloggers talk about bringing back DDT,” says Bob Rosenberg, director of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, “but we had stopped using it even before 1972.”

Resources:

Evolution has bred DDT-resistant bedbugs. Chart from

Evolution has bred DDT-resistant bedbugs. Chart from “Understanding Evolution, Bed Bugs Bite Back Thanks to Evolution,”


Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds poisoned by DDT

May 24, 2010

You can read about it here, at Instapundit.

Reynolds wants DDT back because dengue fever showed up at Key West.  News for Reynolds:  We see it in Texas all the time, but usually among poorer people with Hispanic heritage who live along the Rio Grande.  (Funny how these conservative nutballs all worry about people, so long as they’re white, and rich enough to travel to tropical vacation spots; where’s Reynolds to worry about the people who supply his fruits and vegetables?)

One solution:  Improve health care to cure humans with dengue, and then mosquitoes that spread it have no pool of infection to draw from — mosquito bites become just mosquito bites.

Other preventives:  Drain mosquito breeding areas (tires, flower pots, potholes, etc.) within 50 yards of human habitation.  Mosquitoes don’t fly far, and if they can’t breed where people are, they won’t travel to find human victims.

Stupid, destructive solutions:  Spray DDT.  DDT kills insects, bats and birds that prey on mosquitoes much more effectively than it kills mosquitoes, and mosquitoes evolve resistance faster, and rebreed faster. DDT is especially deadly against brown pelicans — maybe Reynolds figures we don’t need to worry about them any more, since they’re under assault from the oil slick that threatens to kill the estuaries of Louisiana.  Were he concerned about the birds, surely he’d have realized his error, right?

So, why did Glenn Reynolds get stupid about DDT?  Why is he promoting DDT, instead of promoting ways to fight dengue?

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But, then, Glenn Reynolds has been a fool for poisoning (anyone but himself) for a long time:

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United Conservatives of Virginia swallow the DDT poison, too.  Don’t these people ever study history?

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Help Glenn Reynolds recover from DDT poisoning, let others know the facts:

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Heartland on bedbugs: DDT stupidity, all the way to 11

May 25, 2009

The Heartland Institute is charitably called a “think tank” sometimes.  In their latest screed against science and people who wish to protect the environment, there is no evidence of thinking, however.  It’s all tank.

The headline says it all: “Bedbug Outbreak Hits All 50 States Thanks to DDT Ban.”

With all their reading on bedbugs, they never noticed the many notes that DDT stopped working against bedbugs more than 50 years ago? Who is going to tell them that DDT doesn’t work? Or, is this a talisman, an understanding that none of the solutions proposed by Heartland Institute will work? First they flirt with intelligent design, then they lose their senses altogether.  There’s an omen there.

Remember the scene in “Spinal Tap?” Heartland Institute on bedbugs is stupid, turned up to 11.  Heartland Institute doesn’t allow comments, probably because they can’t stand the laughter.


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